Who I Am Chapters 8 & 9

CRYING SHOULDER

I thought I had lost my chance to really get with Michael--there were so many times while we were driving home or going to school that I wanted to tell him how I felt when I'd see him glance at me. He was with Karen Anne still, but I wanted to think that we had something that was on the cusp of breaking through. Unfortunately, like a junior high school dance, we stood on opposite sides and made small talk, but no one ever took the first step. Maybe Michael didn't know what to say. I knew what I wanted to say but I didn't want to come off as an even larger basket case than he probably thought I already was.
I wanted to believe that he wanted me as much I wanted him. Everything was calm when he was around, and I felt normal. He didn't care if I said something crazy or started singing show tunes when we drove to school in the morning. I could've dropped a hint; I probably could have hit him over the head with a sledgehammer, but he still probably would not have responded. I wanted to tell him how much I loved him but saying something like that would cause the Earth to stop spinning. I desperately wanted to do it and if I could spend eternity with him, I would pull the brake.
I had spent that Friday in a shell while at school. I'd say “hi” when someone said it to me but otherwise I shied away from conversation and lied when asked if everything was okay. No, everything was not okay, but I would never admit it.
“Karen Anne wants me to come down to the coast with her family during the summer.”
“Sounds great,” I replied as I looked out the window.
“What's wrong?”
“Just wondering about things.”
“Like?”
“It's nothing,” I replied as I leaned back into the seat.
“You're sure?”
“No.”
Mike pulled into the driveway and I got out of the truck before the engine was off.
“Kris!”
I didn't want to stop walking but--
Mike got out of the truck and stood next to it like he was on the cover of a Garth Brooks album.
“You seem kind of, distant.”
“I'm just tired being the third wheel, you know?”
“Nope.”
“I'm in the way of you two.”
“Me and Karen Anne?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Nah. I just let her lead the conversation,” he replied as he walked over to me.
I kept my eyes on his face as I unlocked the door.
“What about the trip to the coast?”
We walked into the house.
“I was going to ask you about that. I don't think—”
“Mom? Dad?”
One of my parents were usually home--but sometimes they were in the back of the house.
We walked up the stairs to my room.
“I think she has something big planned.”
“That's an understatement.”
I threw my backpack on my bed and tried to avoid looking at my reflection in the mirror. My hair was greasy and there were pock marks on face--a game of connect-the-zits would be ready in a manner of hours.
“I mean I enjoy talking to her. She smells nice too.”
I nodded as I walked over to the dresser.
“Did you ever tell her you loved her?”
I shook my head.
“Me neither.”
“Do you?” I asked him as we looked at each other through the mirror.
“Did you?”
“I loved being around her”
“Not who you were looking for?”
“No,” I replied.
Mike slowly walked next to me but didn't look at me directly. “You still think there's a special girl out there for me?”
“Yeah, yeah...she just may be a bit scared to tell you. I mean, when you walk into school on Monday maybe she'll stand there in a blue dress and want to tell you how she feels.”
“What do I tell her?”
“Tell her she doesn't have to be afraid and she can be herself; as crazy as that sounds.”
I looked up to his face and our eyes met up in a way they never had before.
“Be yourself, Kristi.” He reached out and took my hands.
“You see what I look like, right?”
“You've always looked great to me.”
“Thank you,”
“I think I found the girl for me,” Michael said as he pulled me closer. “And she was here all along."
♦♦♦
Mrs. Peterson's released her grip, but the damage had done. Her eyes showed no emotion but I'm sure mine flashed eighteen years of fear and sadness. I went to a private school but that didn't change how people were on the inside. We were all meant to look the same with our pressed dress pants and school uniforms, but the inner ugliness was always there. A throwaway comment here and there; a snickering joke at my expense, up until I was with Karen Anne and then it segued to how we could be the perfect lesbian couple if I had a vagina.
If they only knew.
I slowly moved away, hoisted my satchel onto my shoulder and ran out of the lecture hall without looking back at Mrs. Peterson. I didn't want to think what I would have done if I was braver or felt that I would be in the right, which I would have been except in the court of public opinion. No, then I would be labeled as a freaky kid who hasn't been on his meds who thinks he's a chick.
There was more pain in my heart than in my arm. Hot flashes of anger mixed with fear ran through my head as the verbal assault hurt more than anything else. I instinctively ran to the theatre auditorium but stopped before going in.
I didn't feel like me anymore. It sucked that it only took one teacher's attitude to knock me back in time nearly three years; to the days of looking at my wrists and making small cuts with a razor blade. I stopped carrying one with me a long time ago but at that moment, I wanted it back. To see the red lines, the blood, but also knowing that my arms were going to hurt like Hell for the next several days. Still, it was a way to kill the pain in my head, to stop the voices telling me that I didn't fit in with anyone--not even in with drama geeks as they would show their true selves if they ever knew.
I didn't want to go into the theatre. I wanted to go home. A home, a home that was away from anyone else except for Michael; where we would have farm animals and I would burn the ramen and force us both to eat cold sandwiches for the rest of our lives. But, by God, it would be just us and not my parents. Not annoying dorm room monitors. Not bitchy college co-eds or teachers who thought they knew everything about me.
But no, I was at college--in the real world and I was trying to be the real me: Kristina Allie Fricking Novoselic who should have stood up to her dad a long time. Who should have told a few doctors to go to Hell and who should have snatched her life out of the jaws of gender identity a long time ago.

The theatre was dark except for the action onstage. I was late and the third scene of the fourth act was in progress as I ran to the side door and into the wings.
“I had to stay behind in my last class, Mr. Montesi.”
He turned around, adjusted his glasses and grinned slightly. “Not a problem, Kristi.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“We need to work on the timing of this scene.”
We both looked out at Brendon and Marcus, in full costume, were—despite having a good three months— stumbling over their lines and acting like they had no sense of rhythm or conversation.
“Hang on guys!” Mr. Montesi walked onto the stage and stood between the two of them. “The repertoire is not there. The two of you have been friends since birth. Almost blood brothers and I’m sure if Shakespeare thought of it, he would have mentioned that the two of you probably got into more trouble on a Friday night at a bar than anyone else except for Julius Caesar and that killer kegger at the Senate.”
I kept a straight face as the rest of the troupe volleyed their attention at Mr. Montesi and then at me.
“The two of you should almost be able to finish each other sentences as both Anthipholus and Domino—and as Brendon and Marcus. Now, if you prefer that I require you to say your lines like a drunken sailor, I can do that too.”
“Can I do this scene, Keith Richards style?” Brendon asked.
“I can do a decent John Lennon,” Marcus chimed in.
I rolled my eyes.
Mr. Montesi clapped his hands. “If only this was New York and the Ed Sullivan Show but it’s Knoxville so instead you’ll have to work more like Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks.”
I was reminded of Mike for a moment.
“Where’s our courtesan?” Mr. Montesi asked as he looked at the other actors.
“Heather said she couldn't make it.”
“Oh yes, that’s right--personal thing. Okay. Well, Miss Novoselic, will you please take your mark as her understudy for today?”
“Yes sir,” I replied as I went into the wings, laid my bag next to the podium where I would normally stand behind. Then I walked past the other actors—not wanting to make eye contact or explain anything to them, but here I was, stepping out to everyone.
“Why, sir, I brought you word an hour since that the bark expedition put forth to-night; and then were you hindered by the sergeant, to tarry for the hoy delay. Here are the angels that you sent for to deliver you.”
“The fellow is distract, and so am I; And here we wander in illusions: Some blessed power deliver us from hence!”
I opened the door and stepped into the stage light. I tried to not look at Brendon or Marcus, but I had to for the scene to work.
“Well met, well met, Master Antipholus. I see, sir, you have found the goldsmith now: Is that the chain you promised me today?”
Brendon moved his hand to his chest to cover up the chain. “Satan, avoid! I charge thee, tempt me not.”
“Master, is this Mistress Satan?” Marcus screamed his line out as he pointed at me.
“It is the devil.”
“Nay, she is worse, she is the devil's dam; and here she comes in the habit of a light wench: and thereof-” Marcus was the guy in the group who cared only about his craft and thought that I was his “go-boy”. I let him know on the first week that I was not his servant, butler, costumer or intern. I was cordial and he took it okay but he always had a sneer for me. We kept everything on a professional level, for the good of the production; but I could feel the tension. “Come not near him!”
“Your man and you are marvelous merry, sir. Will you go with me? We'll mend our dinner here?”
“Master, if you do, expect spoon-meat; or bespeak a long spooner.” Marcus deliberately misspoke the line. I looked past it, again, for the sake of the production.
“Hold it!" Mr. Montesi yelled from the side of the stage.
“I mean, it’s just weird, Mr. Montesi”
“I do hope you’re using that pronoun to discuss the situation and not to the performer before you.”
“What's with the dress?"
“Mr. Howard. Another Shakespearean lesson is in order. In the original Globe Theatre, all parts were performed by men and younger teens, as in Juliet was a young man.”
“Okay, if he was in costume.”
“I’ve worn a costume for a long time,” I replied. “I’ve played the part of depressed little boy and I grew tired of the role.”
“But do you have to be near me to do it?”
I put my hands behind me and bent my back a little towards him. “Yep.”
“Lets’ crank it back a few lines, when the Courtesan enters.” Mr. Montesi commanded as he put his hands in the air.
For the first time since I knew him, Brendon was speechless.
Practice continued, and I jumped back and forth between my stage manager position and my quasi-understudy role until the final line was said and we all froze as the lights went out.
“Bravo! Now, can let’s do that again tomorrow and then at the dress rehearsal.”
The troupe nodded and clapped as the actors went backstage. I grabbed at the loose properties left behind.
“You did really good.”
I turned and squinted—the spot lights were still on—but I could still see Amanda walk to the front of the stage.
“Thank you. How long have you been watching?”
“A little bit, I—Are you free to talk?”
“Umm, yeah, I, I need to take these to the wings and—I’ll be right back. “
“Okay,” she replied.
I turned around and felt this immense knot in my chest. What did she want with me? I mean Amanda was kind of like Karen Anne, but I would have hoped that maybe she’d care that I was spoken for and I hoped that she wasn’t trying to come onto me. I admit she was cute, but relationships are not built on good looks.
We left the theatre together in a slight silence.
“Thanks for walking with me.”
“Sure.”
“Can you help me?”
“With what?”
"It's my boyfriend, Jacob." Her tone was not energetic or happy. This obviously was not going to be about how great he was or what I might know about guys (which was very little, even though—). No, her voice had a lilt of sadness and fear. I couldn't see any external bruises, but I saw the emotional ones with every nervous tic of her eyes and face.
"What's wrong with him?"
"I-"
"What is he like?" I asked as Amanda tried to avoid looking at me.
"What?"
"What attracted you to him?"
"Well, we-we met during the summer and he was so sweet and adorable and treated me like a princess. Telling me how I was this perfect girl and-"
"Sounds like a nice guy."
"He's still sweet and adorable," She finally looked at me but then lowered her head. "I'm afraid of him and he won't take no for an answer."
"No to what?"
"Everything, I- I thought that maybe I could tell him to leave me alone, I--But he won't. I've tried to get the nerve to cut him out of my life but--"
"You have to cut the people who hurt you out of your life. Has he ever hit you?"
She turned her head away and then lowered it down and she sniffled.
"I'll take that as a yes."

Chapter 9: HAD TO GROW UP

We tried hard to stay “friends” at school. Fortunately, we had so few classes together that it was easy to avoid the “let me look at them all day with those eyes” while in class; but it was hard to see the other girls flirting with him—after they learned that he had broken up with Karen Anne. The break-up was not mutual with Karen Anne sputtering so much you'd think her head would explode or she would pass out and need to be resuscitated. I never thought of her being vindictive before but she kind of held a grudge towards Mike after that—or at least it appeared that way to me.
So, during school we kept our cool as the country guy with the broad shoulders and his emo-friend. His emo-friend who at times would walk a bit too close to him. Yeah, so we failed at times, but no one would dare say anything about it to our face. Not Melissa, KA or the student body.
But after school, either at his uncle’s house or at mine, if we were alone then we were not just ‘friends’. I honestly cannot describe to you how it feels to lay next to someone and feel the warmth of their skin against your own. We would snuggle most of the time—just to lie next to someone who thought the world of me.
There were close calls and all of them were usually at Michael’s as his uncle would see us looking guilty and sweaty. He wouldn't say anything else, just a nod and a wave of his hand after he told Michael what he wanted him to do. There was one time when I tried to wear everything underneath—to get into the full being. I figured that in time I would have to know how to wear one and well, I left a bra at his house—I still think Michael hid it—and didn’t think about it until after I got home.
My parents never came up to my room; as they assumed we were playing video games or watching TV. However, mom had some suspicions:
"How serious are you with him?" She blindsided me with this question after Mike had left the house and I had hugged him instead shaking his hand or giving a high five or a fist pound--the manly things.
"What do you mean?" I asked as I stepped into the living room. Mom was in her chair with her reading glasses on and a modern tome in her hands.
"You know exactly what I mean, Kris."
"We're exclusive."
"And that means?"
Did she want the truth? Did she really want to know about everything we had done? I mean, there was quite a list and all of it would cause her to turn red in the face and hide and tell me to stop talking.
"Are you having sex?"
I took a few small steps back and tried to not look her in the eye. I didn't have to say anything, but I followed my visual confession with a meek sounding, "yeah."
Mom turned her head back to her book but then closed it and took her glasses off. I was about to get an earful.
"I'm not happy that you're doing this behind our backs."
I sat down on the couch and tried to avoid making eye contact.
"What? Tell dad that I'm doing it with a guy?"
"What are you doing, exactly?"
"Would you like me to record them for posterity or as evidence?"
“Not amused.” She replied as her eyes bore a hole into my soul.
“Look, what do you want me to do, go on the pill?”
“Do you need to?”
“I have no idea how screwed up my body is right now mom. I’ll grow another head from my ass faster than I’ll grow a pair of breasts; let alone ever get pregnant.”
“Kris.”
“Mom, seriously. You can’t except me to find some girl who’s going to like me for who I am.”
“Karen Anne did.”
“Oh, if she only knew.”
“But Michael does?”
“Yes, and quite well.”
“I’m making an appointment with a gynecologist for you on Friday.”
“Oh, great. I can’t wait to add yet another prescription to my collection.”
I got and tried to walk out of the room, but mom stood up and blocked me.
“What about condoms? Are you using them?”
“Are we really still having this conversation?”
“Yes, what if you do get pregnant?”
“Then we will make it into one of those magazines at the checkout lines as the family with the first pregnant male in Tennessee.”

♦♦♦

I didn't tell Amanda to get a gun permit or to start learning how to use a katana, but I had to let her know sometimes you need to get away the problem.
“That’s why I’m here.”
“To get away from—?”
We sat in the corner of the UC building, tucked away behind large-backed chairs.
“My parents.” I replied with the least amount of emotion as I could. “Try to envision being told from the first time you could comprehend English that you were special. You were so special that no one could know about you and that you had to undergo procedures and prescriptions to fix what was wrong with you?”
“Conversion therapy?”
“Kind of, but no one tried to put electrodes on my nipples and screamed God hates me. “
“But they told you what to do?”
“Well, all parents do that. I just mean they wanted me to be an alpha male, but I was an alpha bitch when I felt like it.”
“Jacob’s wanted me to drop out of school; said he’d take care of me.”
“Sometimes,” I hesitated to say it, but did with a slight hint of sadness, “you have to take care of yourself and do what you want to do. Do you want to drop out?”
“No.”
“But he wants you to—oh, you leave school and wait for him somewhere?”
“Well, I’d go to work,” she replied. “I’m not a huge fan of the classes I’m taking.”
“Amanda, you’re making excuses for him.”
“I am not.”
“If he really cares about you, then he will let you let you say your peace and allow you to walk out of his life. I mean, is that what you want?”
“I just want him to stop hurting me.”
“Sometimes they don’t. It’s so heavily ingrained…like it’s programmed in them to think we’re inferior. They see this partial person, someone who becomes their little project. Let me guide you through this Hell called life and as long as you listen to exactly what I say; eat what I say and never waver from it then I’ll be happy.”
“You’ll be happy?”
“I mean they’ll be happy. You won’t be but you’ll be conditioned to accept it so you won’t ruffle any feathers.”
"I don’t think I could handle if something happened to him because I left him.
"We do have to accept the responsibilities of our actions."
"Yes."
"But, we’re not responsible for what others think or how they react." I leaned my head back and laughed for a moment. "This is who I am. You need to be you and break away from him."
“I can't do that.”
"You can do whatever you want to do. You don't need him to tell you what to do."
"Just cut him off?"
"I don't know him, but by the sound of your voice, I would."
"What do I do?"
I jumped up from my seat. "Stand up!"
She stood up with a bit of fear in her eyes.
"Say your name."
"Umm, Amanda Marks?"
"Louder."
"Amanda Marks."
"No, tell me who you are. your full name."
"I'm Amanda Marissa Marks"
"Louder."
"I'm Amanda Marissa Marks."
"I need you to be louder--Yell, like Jacob's way over there--Let him know that you are who you say you are, that you're in charge of your life and you don't crap from anyone. Let him be afraid of you."
"My name is Amanda Marissa Marks and I don't shit from anyone! Including you, Jacob Alderson!"
Amanda had a new-found look in her eyes.
"You've crossed the bridge. Go live."
"Thank you." She moved forward and hugged me.
It was after nine, I had stayed so long with Amanda trying to help her…trying to play “Dr. Phil” at the least and trying to be a kindred spirit at the most. I had practice dealing with people who didn't understand me. I worked hard to not let them bother me—even the nurses who would look at me and say, “bless your little heart” like I was a deformed creature to be pitied because I had so much going on “down there”.
I made my way back to the dorm, thinking the entire way that maybe I should have enunciated my point to say her peace and walk away. Not to argue, listen to begging or partake in some back and forth that would break down into a shouting match or worse, a one-sided brawl with Amanda being the loser.
I just wanted her to be strong, to feel like everything could be hers--a never half empty kind of life--the kind I had felt since that morning, with a few exceptions.
I arrived back at the dorm; the lights were out. I flicked them on. maybe expecting to see Michael wearing just chaps (I have no idea what they are for, but, I would not have minded seeing him in just those) to surprise me but he wasn't there, which wasn't like him. He apparently had gotten the mail from the campus post office before going where ever he was.
I wanted to call him then, but I was late to come back due to talking with Amanda so if he wanted to go somewhere with...well, most likely with Danny, I guess it was okay.
The mail had one letter in it that was peculiar: It was from the University Administrator's office; did not a stamp but was addressed to Michael. It was already opened. I put it down, as it wasn't my business.
I got dressed for bed, which was still a pair of shorts and a long t-shirt; and looked at my arm in the mirror—there were a few small bruises. The thought of going to Mrs. Peterson’s office in the middle of the night and painting in a rainbow of colors crossed my mind—so did slamming her down with a baseball bat. However, as much as I wanted to do both there would be nothing to gain in the long run and I would only be stooping to her level and she would be able to say that I was some crazy thing or other with a vindictive streak. I did have a vindictive streak towards people who pissed me off…and so for tomorrow I would wear the camisole with the short skirt.
The door opened, and Michael walked in, looking like he had been hit by a freight truck with a bandage across his head.
"What happened?" I raced over to him and he let me hug him, but he looked away and then down.
“Just have to go to the bathroom. Hang on.”
I let him go as he opened the bathroom door, went inside and locked it.
It was something I never saw before. I never saw Michael get flustered or show signs of being pained, or maybe I just never noticed them.
“Are you okay? “I asked through the door.
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s fine. Everything’s okay.”
He opened the door, stepped out and again avoided looking at me directly,
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing.”
“Eyes. Here, Michael. Please?”
He looked at me and gave a small smile. “You are beautiful no matter what you do.”
“Thank you.”
I lead him over to his desk and he sat down in the chair.
"I was out with Danny."
"And what, did you guys have an accident?"
“No, I—have a confession to make.”
Every. Single. Negative thought that I could think of exploded in my head like a warehouse of firecrackers going off; spontaneous and wild:
He was dying.
My parents were coming for a visit.
Aliens finally invaded.
We were invited to be on “Jerry Springer”.
He had secretly been texting Karen Anne all this time and the trip to MSU to use a computer to record a football was simply a pathetic ruse to be able to see her, which was why we sat on the MSU side.

“I got an after-school job at a warehouse, working with Dan.”
“Why?”
“He needs the money, we need the money. That surgery isn’t going to be cheap and—”
“Your classes?”
“It’s three days a week and a Saturday.”
“What were you doing?” I asked as I rocked back on my heels.
“Walking when I missed a low ceiling.”
“Doesn’t look like you missed it.”
“I know, but—sorry, I didn't want you to have to worry.”
“I would worry more if something happened to you.”
“Well, I wanted to make it a surprise to you—come back in with a little money we can save or use.”
“Thank you. You’re really thinking about the future.”
“Actually, I’m kind of thinking about that nearly see-through thing you got. I heard it calling to me.”
“Really?” I asked as I stepped towards him, “what did it say?”
Michael stood up from his chair and scooped me up into his arms. “I rather show you.”



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